Geological Perspectives of the Historic Buildings of New York City

Wayne Powell

Brooklyn College
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


This course is an exploration of the urban architectual landscape of NYC that will intergrate aspects of petrology and resource geology with the history of NYC's settlement patterns and ever-expanding trade and transportation routes.

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Course Context:

This is an general education course for students who have completed a minimum of 60 credits, including three courses in STEM courses. The course meets for 4 hours, once per week, preferably on a weekend (Fri-Sun).

Course Goals:

Students will be able to determine the origin (genetic and geographic) and physical properties of rocks based upon their visual properties, and evaluate their use as building stone.

Students will be able to place New York City buildings into a historical context based upon the use of building stone and architectural style.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Students will participate in several field trips during which they will be required to gather information about New York City landmark buildings (age, use, stone, architectural style). This data will be shared among students to develop a database of historic buildings from which historic trends can be determined.

Skills Goals

Navigation in an urban setting
Integration of digital graphics into written reports

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The course will include several field trips that will require the use of street/transit maps and location of specific buildings. Creation of graphic-intensive guidebooks for rock ID and building interpretation durinng the class will give students repeated opprotunities to practice the integration of text and graphics into electronic documents.

Attitudinal Goals

Students will change the way they look at their urban landscape, seeing a deeper history that includes our reliance on earth materials.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Geologically themed field trips through several familiar city neighborhoods, museums, and historic sites are integrated throughout the course. It is hoped that repeated exposure to familiar surroundings through a different lens will result in a lasting perspective change.


Assessment will (of course) be rubric-based, and involve assessment of both individual and group work. Assignments will include jigsaw exercises to characterize the general use and properties of buildings stone, and the definition of criteria for the identifcation of the 15 most common buildings stones in NYC's historic buildings. Concept sketches will be used to evaluate student ability to recognize the essential elements of specific rocks (e.g., Deer Isle granite, Indiana limestone),and architectural styles(e.g., beaux-arts, greek revival). Gallery walks will be used as a pre-submission form of formative assessment.

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